And so it begins. After a brief hiatus due to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the AHL's finals finally kick off at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania tomorrow as the Bears look to take on the Texas Stars. This is what fans of the Chocolate and White - and fans of Washington Capitals - wait all year for: the chance to take home a league-record 11th Calder Cup.
Following eighty regular season games and two months of uncertain, tumultuous playoffs, the season has come down to this- hockey in June. As far as I'm concerned, it's best kind of hockey there is. Gone are the snow-boots and parkas sloshing across the wind-plain of a parking lot, hurrying to the warmth of the arena. They've since been replaced by flip-flops and shorts, strolling across the warm summer asphalt, seeking the refuge of the A/C. Is there anything better? Yes - four wins in June.
Thursday, June 3rd – Stars at Bears – 7pm, Giant Center
Saturday, June 5th – Stars at Bears – 7pm, Giant Center
Monday, June 7th – Bears at Stars – 8:30pm, Cedar Park Center
Wednesday, June 9th – Bears at Stars – 8:30pm, Cedar Park Center
Friday, June 11th – Bears at Stars – 8:30pm, Cedar Park Center*
Monday, June 14th – Stars at Bears – 7pm, Giant Center*
Wednesday, June 16th – Stars at Bears – 7pm Giant Center*
* = If necessary
All times noted are in Eastern Standard Time
Because the Bears and Stars have not met before, this series is a bit of an enigma. One can only crunch numbers to try and get an idea of the series…
As you probably already know, the Bears went 60-17-0-3 this year in the regular season to finish 1st in the East Division, 1st in the Eastern Conference, and 1st in the AHL with 123 points. The Texas Stars went 46-27-3-4 in the regular season for 99 points, good enough for 2nd in the West Division and 3rd in the Western Conference.
The Bears playoff record is not as pretty – going 12 and 3, requiring 9 third-period comebacks as well as 7 overtime wins.
The Stars playoff record is 12 and 6 through the 2010 playoffs, and they’ve won two game 7s on the road to reach the Calder Cup Finals.
The Ones to Watch:
Hershey: Guess who’s back? Andrew Gordon! After leaving Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals with a “lower body injury,” Andrew has been cleared for contact, and back to skating alongside Keith Aucoin and Alex Giroux on the top line. Gordon was visibly frustrated with his injury and inability to be on the ice, so expect him to come out on fire. In the regular season, he ranked third in points on the Bears’ roster with 37 goals and 34 assists for 71 points. He also finished the year with a +22 rating. In the playoffs, Gordon has 10 goals and 5 assists, in just 11 games.
Texas: When the Dallas’ Stars season ended, rookie Jamie Benn packed up and headed for the Austin suburb of Cedar Park to join the Texas Stars in their playoff push. Benn is the real deal. The twenty-year-old Left Wing played in all 82 of Dallas’ games this year, tallying 22 goals and adding 19 assists for a total of 41 points… in his rookie year. In his 18 AHL playoff games so far, Benn has scored 14 goals and 10 assists for 24 points and is currently a +10.
Hershey: It is probably safe to assume that Hershey is going to continue riding Michal Neuvirth through the playoffs. In his 12 games played, Neuvi boasts a .917 save percentage with 10 wins and 2 losses. He has also allowed only 27 goals on 324 shots. He looks to become the first goalie to win back-to-back Calder Cups since Pete Peeters of the Maine Mariners in 1978/79.
Texas: After losing Brent Krahn to a concussion in early May, back-up goalie Matt Climie has done everything asked of him. Climie has 5 wins and 3 losses under his belt, and holds a .922 save percentage. He has allowed 25 goals on 321 shots.
So there you have it. The absolute final series preview of the 2010 Calder Cup Finals. If you’re heading to Giant Center, we wish you safe travels (but make sure you have tickets, Saturday’s Game 2 is Sold Out). Anyone out there brazen enough to make a prediction on a series between two teams who have never met before? Leave it in the comments section! Go Bears!